Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

Winter Festivals: Living Seasonally through History, Culture & Art

In 19th century New England, the winter season was a time for gathering and socializing with family, friends, and neighbors. As the fields lay dormant in anticipation off the agricultural season, rural New Englanders used the cold season as a time for meeting friends, having conversations, and visiting with one another. Before the telephone or telegraph, visiting a friend’s home was a way to share news, gossip, and stories.

Besides visiting a friend’s home, other common gathering places were the general store, taverns, and town meetings. Home visits, encounters with neighbors and local businesses allowed New Englanders to strengthen their community ties and reconnect during a time of year that was generally quiet.

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6 Winter Festivals in Western MA

Northampton Ice Arts Festival

This annual festival has brought temporary ice sculptures to the streets of  Northampton since 2010. Offered as a part of the Northampton Center for the Arts’  February installment of Arts Night Out, the Ice Arts Festival offers the chance to  explore the art of ice carving. Artists work away while passersby can check out the different techniques and tools of the trade. Spectators can watch the participants throughout the day and then enjoy the glistening sculptures at night Visit nohoarts.org to find out this year’s date, time and  sculpture locations.

Easthampton WinterFest

Since 2013, Easthampton has been bringing together wintry celebrations that explore local history and the local landscape such as ice harvesting on Nashawannuck Pond, nature walks with community partners, wildlife talks and demonstrations, and other festivities such as dance parties, horse-drawn wagon rides and more!  To learn about the latest program information for this year, check out:  www.nashawannuckpond.org/winterfest.

Holyoke Canal District Winter Festival

Holyoke’s Canal District Winter Festival offers a weekend of activities to bring to life the city’s historic Canal District neighborhood.  Visitors can explore this interesting part of the city where the canals are evidence of Holyoke’s once thriving industry. Usually in collaboration with Gateway City Arts, past activities have included a Luminaria Parade, dog show, artisan market, musical performances and the annual firefighters vs. police officers rivalry hockey game! www.gatewaycityarts.com.

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Sense of Place: Winter Social Calls

Think about this:

What are the tools used in sculpting ice? What are the challenges ice sculptors face that other sculptors of different media don’t?

How would families and neighbors gather in the winter before the invention of automobiles and highways? How did the inability to travel far distances impact communities and relationships?

How do winter festivals gather communities together? What types of activities do they host in order to foster connection and togetherness during the colder months?


Download our Jan/Feb edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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